Cool facts and curious figures from Matt Smith’s sixth championship
As we continue to traipse into the ever more frigid depths of the off-season it’s high time that we look behind the curtain in retrospect at the season of Matt Smith, who won his sixth Pro Stock Motorcycle title. This time Smith straddled two different motorcycles; his Denso Suzuki and the trusty Buell that carried him to much success includign the 2021 title.
On more than one occasions, both of the motorcycles were placed in competition over the course of a weekend, bringing up a scenario that no one could recall in class history and perhaps elevating the blood pressure of the Tech Department.
As a personal note, we dubbed Smith “Matty Two Bikes” on the NHRAonFOX broadcasts. That may have been my nod to fellow Boston Red Sox fans who for years labeled hard-playing Dustin Pedroia as “Dusty Two Bags” for his double generating propensity.
As for Smith, the two-bike approach worked to perfection. By season’s end, he’d won the title by 82 points, and there are some interesting moments and facts that stand out when we review his long march through the season.
The Race He Never Should Have Won
While it was the fearsome Buell that ultimately carried Smith to the big prize, we cannot look past the win he recorded on his Suzuki, a motorcycle that was, while not slow, certainly not Matt Smith fast. He often talked about working on the clutch and getting it correct as he knew the engines were making ample power, but the season never found him in that sweet spot of matching engine to clutch program.
The win he earned at Virginia Motorsports Park is one that Smith may not soon forget if for no other reason that he turned the trick with a motorcycle that was certainly not the quickest on the property. He qualified in the No. 4 position with a 6.826. It’s worth noting that the low qualifier was 6.756 and No. 2 was 6.786. Even if Smith played his cards right and tap danced through the minefield, something nasty was waiting for him at the end. And it was.
That nasty thing was the then points leader Steve Johnson on his Suzuki. Here’s what dire straits look like in drag racing; Smith was consistent with runs of 6.871, 6.860, and 6.868, but he was well behind Johnson’s string of 6.807, 6.813, and 6.850 runs.
On the surface, it appeared that Johnson had Smith right where he wanted him and he did, until Johnson went .110 on the Tree while Smith was .048. The end result? A major league holeshot win with Smith’s 6.842 defeating Johnson’s 6.786. Given their history, it’s not surprising that Smith had a euphoric look of shock and relief on his face holding the Wally. The rest of us scratched our heads.
And Then Came Denver
If the drag racing universe has balance, it was demonstrated in Denver where Smith had the anthesis of his mildly struggle-bus Virginia performance. In fact, it was one of the most dominating Pro Stock Motorcycle performances of all time. If we had to guess, competitors were lobbying for mid-race weight changes after they got a load of what that Denso Buell was doing.
In qualifying Smith became the first (and still only) Pro Stock Motorcycle to run into the 7.0 range with a 7.09 run that had the fans cheering and some other riders wondering if they could still catch a John Tesh concert at nearby Red Rocks. Smith out-qualified the rest of the field by .06-second. Wife Angie Smith was No. 2 with a 7.15. When eliminations began it was clear that so long as Matt kept his side of the Tree green, no one would have an answer for what he was bringing to the party. When Smith defeated Angelle Sampey in the semi-finals, he became the first rider to top 190-mph on the mountain. Beyond the ends of the grandstands that was a limited celebration. In the final, Joey Gladstone brought a .018 light to Smith’s .048 but it wasn’t nearly enough as the time slips read 7.09 and 7.16, respectively.
Few if any of us had ever seen anyone run as roughshod over the class on a single weekend as Matt did at Bandimere Speedway. It was amazing to behold (only if you were not racing in the class that weekend).
The Legitimate Challenger That Emerged
There was at least one guy who made Smith lose sleep and forced him to bear down in his concentration during the 2022 season and that was Joey Gladstone. After picking up a couple of regular season wins and standing toe to toe with Smith when it mattered, the world was wondering if Gladstone had it in him to shove the reigning champ aside. When the countdown began, it sure looked like it.
Gladstone came off a tough U.S. Nationals loss to win in Reading and take the points lead in the first chapter of the Countdown. How would Smith respond? He did what champions do.
The most pivotal round of the 2022 championship run was the semi-final in St Louis where Smith and Gladstone glared at each other from opposite lanes. In the moment, Smith delivered with a .019 light and 6.752 to handle the .023 and 6.782 of Gladstone. From there, Gladstone slipped back. He red-lighted in Dallas and got taken out by Angie Smith in the quarterfinals in Las Vegas. While he did make a run to the final in Pomona, Smith had already locked up the crown earlier in the day.
Now for the Numbers
Among Camping World NHRA champions there isn’t anyone who leads fewer statistical categories at the end of the season than Matt Smith. The man does not even lead the round appearance tally! Not kidding there, we’ll get to it in a second but let’s start with the categories that Smith did lead.
Low E.T. 4
Top Speed 7
Win percentage 73%
Points per race 87.47
And that’s it. Here is Smiths’ rank in other categories.
Qualifying position 2
Qualifying E.T. 2
Reaction time 7
Elimination ET 5
Round appearances 2 (Smith 42 – Gladstone 43)
Low qualifiers 2
What, if anything does this dive into the NHRA Nitro Research Department tell us? It actually paints the picture of a brilliant racer who approaches every event with strategy and thought.
Smith had zero red-lights this season which meant he was not pushing too hard on the starting line. A class rank of No. 7 in reaction time indicates he knew he had horsepower and didn’t need to push. The average elimination E.T. rank of No. 5 is more a function of his time on the Suzuki. Had he been on the Buell all season, he’d likely be ranked much higher.
Decades from now, when people look back on Smith’s 2022 season, those simply looking at the numbers will be flummoxed but those that knew he rode two different horses, swapping them with aplomb and finally sticking with the fast one, will understand this apparent mishmash of number soup. Knowing Smith, both options will likely be on the table for 2023, and it sure will be fun to watch.